After accident, life-long pianist never doubted playing again

Aug 24, 2017

Michael Coonrod has been teaching piano at Interlochen Center for the Arts for over 40 years.

But after a horrible camping accident, his career was put in jeopardy.

Michael Coonrod spent Memorial Day weekend of 2015 camping. He was with a local boy scout troop he sponsors. After dinner one evening, several of the boys wanted to go hiking in the neighboring cornfield, something they did the previous year.

The only obstacle in their way was a barbed wire fence.

“I have been over it many times, and so I jumped over it," he says. "I was going to find a place for them to go through the fence."

As he jumped over, the ring on the fourth finger of his right hand got snagged by the barbed wire. The skin, muscle and tendons were pulled off his finger like a glove.

"Immediately I knew it was something terrible,” he says.

Reattachment surgery was unsuccessful. 

That meant Coonrod had to do something he hadn’t done in over 60 years – learn how to play the piano again, this time missing a finger on his right hand. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever return to form, but he was sure of one thing: he’d never stop playing.

“Within a day … I was telling myself and others that I’m really grateful that it happened to me and not a student," Coonrod explains. "I’m also grateful that it happened to the fourth finger, which is the weakest finger for piano."

Remarkably, within five months he was back, playing and teaching regularly. There are still pieces that he can’t play, but that hasn’t stopped him from performing.

Max Johnston is studying journalism at Michigan State University. He came to Interlochen in June for the Transom Traveling Workshop taught by Rob Rosenthal.